Rising toward the fading stars high atop the Andes, El Tatio Geysers erupt from more than 80 vents into wraith-like plumes, which dance in the first crisp golden rays of dawn. It's not quite the largest geyser field in the world (it's the third), or the highest (it's close), but combined with those snowcapped volcanoes that encircle its steaming expanse, it is perhaps the most magnificent.
In addition to the searing-hot fumeroles and geysers, the field has a few more inviting geological features. A large 35°C (95°F) hot spring lets you soak away the Andes' stubborn chill, while bubbling mud pots offer the perfect masque for cleansing away weeks of grime from the road. Relax.
While the closest population center to the El Tatio Geysers is Calama, an ancient town with a small but developing tourist sector, the vast majority of visitors come on day trips from San Pedro de Atacama. By day trips, that means you'll be leaving at 4am for the slow ride up to an icy 4,300 meter (more than 14,000 foot) volcanic plateau.
The early bird gets the National Geographic-quality photos, however, as the steaming flumes cast up from the earth's boiling heart seem larger and more impressive in the frigid Andean sunrise. Dress appropriately. Also keep in mind that an absence of railings and warnings does not mean the geysers are safe; tourists fall through the fragile crust and burn themselves every year.
Tours & Tickets
Location: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Duration: 8 hours